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Zeppelin Airship L21 over Lancashire
This building is in the village of Holcombe north of Bury, and it used to be the Post Office. The B&W image is from shortly after the events decribed below. You can still see the bomb damage to the stones and windowsills today.
We generally asssociate German air raids on Britain with the Second World War. Yet during WW1, while the south of England was bombed by aircraft, airships bombed civilians further north before proper air defences were organised.
There were two such air raids on Lancashire during WW1. The first in 1916 is described here, while the second – over Wigan in 1918 – was a story I first heard at school in the late 70’s from our headmaster, Norman Jones who was soon to retire. At school assembly one morning Mr Jones appealed to us boys not to play ‘Army’ in the playground (tree branches were machine guns, cakes of dried soil were hand grenades). He told us how, when he was our age, he saw a German Zeppelin airship bring death and destruction to his home town and told us that war was not a game, not something we should enjoy.
His words made an impression on us – that lunchtime in the school yard instead of playing Army we played Zeppelin Bombers over Wigan.
For details of air raids on the Bury area during WW2 please see here
25 SEPTEMBER 1916
Zeppelin LZ61 (tactical number L21) was commanded by Oberleutnant Kurt Frankenburg who was aged 29. On a clear evening the airship left its base at Nordholz north west of Hamburg along with 6 other airships, and made landfall south of Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast at 2145. The airship was probably at a height of 8,000 feet but seems to have descended for the attack on Bolton. Frankenburg was heading for Derby, but his ship was pushed north by winds.
Passing over a country which was mostly blacked out, L21 hovered over Bacup, then sailed west, dropping bombs on Rawtenstall and Holcombe before moving on to Bolton. After the attack the airship moved north, then north east, dropped one last bomb at Bolton Abbey before crossing the coast again north of Whitby at 0305.
Below; Rawtenstall. The first of the bombs fell here, though no-one was injured by any of the explosive and incendiary bombs, all the casualties were in one street in Bolton. The circles roughly mark the places where bombs fell.
Below; The first bomb, an incendiary device, fell at Heightside House (the circle nearest the camera in the photo above). It failed to go off, and is now displayed in a museum in Rawtenstall. Heightside House is now a Nursing Home. Note the incorrect date on the case.
Below; LZ61 (L21) at its base in Germany. It was 179 metres long and nearly 20 metres in diameter.
Below; Leaving Rawtenstall, the airship turned south and dropped 2 bombs near Ewood Bridge and 6 here at Irwell Vale. The cottages on the left were damaged and the railway was blown out 200 metres to the right of this spot. Another bomb fell at the hamlet of Lumb.
Below; 5 explosive bombs were dropped on the village of Holcombe (see also the lead photo above). Oberleutnant Frankenburg circled the nearby town of Ramsbottom, dropping two bombs and another two on Greenmount before being drawn to the glow of Bolton’s foundries. So far 22 bombs had been dropped with no casualties.
Below; Over Bolton, Frankenburg released another 23 bombs, among the first being at the far end of this street. Photo by Richard Tierney.
Below; Half a dozen bombs fell on and around Kirk Street, destroying and damaging working class housing and killing 13 people; 5 men, 5 women, a 17 year old weaver called Miss Gregory, 5 year old Mary Ellen McDermott (her mother was killed, her father survived) and, along with her mother Mrs Irwin, a “two-year-old babe which was clasped tightly to her breast” according to the Bolton Chronicle. The people of Bolton rallied after the bombing and funds were raised to support those who had suffered in the attack.
Below; Kirk Street has long since gone, Bolton University now occupies the site of this tragedy. Photo by Richard Tierney.
Below; Turning north, Oberleutnant Frankenburg took his airship away from the town, dropping a few bombs in the vicinity of the Town Hall. An incendiary fell through the roof of a solicitors’ office in Mawdsley Street but the fire brigade responded before any serious damage was done. Photo by Richard Tierney.
Upon his return to Germany, Oberleutnant Frankenburg reported that he had succesfully bombed the city of Derby, which is over 60 miles to the south east of Bolton. Two months later, again commanding LZ61 (L21), he was shot down off Lowestoft while returning from a raid. All 17 men on board were killed.
Most details from “Zeppelins Over Lancashire” (1991) by Peter J C Smith. Mr Smith is the authority on these raids, so where details vary between sources, I have gone with Smith.
Map used courtesy of itraveluk
Image of Zeppelin LZ61 (commonly referred to as L21) from wikepedia commons
Photos of the Bolton sites used with kind permission of Richard Tierney who visited and photographed all the places where bombs fell in his town specifically for this presentation. Thanks again Richard.
Visit his stream here;
Richard was born (some years after the event!) in Darley Street, Bolton, which had been bombed by Zeppelin L21.